Science Sims Can Be Phenomenal!
The expression “seeing is believing” is usually true. But in science education, many of the concepts can be quite difficult for students to observe because they can be very small, very large, very fast or very slow. So how can we provide students with an experience of science phenomena in the confined 45 to 90 minutes of a class period?
One option is to use simulations to give students the ability to slow down the really fast, speed up the really slow, and see the very large or very small. Simulations enable students to build a mental framework for how a “hard to see” system works. They can change variables in a simulated system to observe how each effects the system; and by doing so, students build a conceptual understanding. Simulations are tools that can be embedded within a science lesson to provide a memorable experience for students in the context of all of the background vocabulary, equations, rules, laws, or theories associated with the phenomenon.
Try these 5 simulation-based lessons with your students:
This lesson explores a hypothetical aquatic ecosystem where students can change the pH and temperature of the water. They can see a possible effect on the diversity and population size of the fish that live there.
2: 'It’s Just a Lunar Phase' from Earth Science
Observing moon phases takes weeks and students can usually only see them after school has ended and from Earth. This simulation allows students to see how and why the phases of the moon happen – with a view from space!
3: Energetic Coasters from Physical Science
Many students may not have the opportunity to visit an amusement park or may be too nervous to ride a roller coaster. They aren’t just missing out on the thrills of amusement park rides – those rides also involve a lot of awesome science! Use this simulation to help students explore the concepts of kinetic and potential energy.
4: 'DNA Replication' from Biology
DNA replication is one of those concepts that students simply cannot see. The process is too fast and too small to observe directly. This simulation allows them to slow down the process so they can see how DNA replication works.
5: 'Build an Atom' from Chemistry
Atomic structure is just about as small of a phenomenon as you can get! Explaining to students how atomic structure works will only get them so far. Having them see it by building atoms through the addition and subtraction of sub-atomic parts will help them gain a better understanding of structure and charge. This simulation is an adaptation of the very popular PhET simulations from the University of Colorado.